…Throw the First Stone

July 7, 2011

As the news broke that Casey Anthony was acquitted in Florida, I would wager there were many otherwise peaceful folks around the country who would have hefted a weighty stone at her given the chance. In our world of selective over-coverage and cable news trials which transform defendants and witnesses into infamous pseudo-celebrities, the Casey Anthony trial stands as the latest in a long-chain of similar events—Amanda Knox, Robert Blake, OJ Simpson, et. al, and it certainly will not be the last of its variety. This one aroused anger and fanned intense emotions in those far removed from the event not because it was about money and power, a celebrity either getting away because of those factors or finding out that for once those factors aren’t enough to save them, nor was this a case in which a member of a historically oppressed group finally beats the system, be they guilty or not. Those cases usually garner the headlines and stir up the cheap seats at home. This time the anger came because of children; and violence against children certainly can and always should arouse anger, so the amount of righteous indignation felt by many around the country is certainly understandable.

Like it or not, the gauge that best measures the intensity of public reaction to anything these days seems to be social media; the hours following the news of Anthony’s “Not Guilty” verdict found Facebook and Twitter updates in a frenzy. There were a few legal pointers from those trying to be “rational,” especially from those in the legal field who pointed out that regardless of innocence, the state’s job in a situation like this one is to prove “beyond the shadow of a doubt” a person’s guilt and their failure to do this effectively is what resulted in the verdict. When a young woman likely faces the death penalty if the jury hands back a verdict of “guilty,” we should all be glad a jury takes it on themselves to be absolutely certain of guilt. Most status updates and posts were of the other variety though, calling on judgment of Anthony. Those who are parents themselves, knowing how precious their children are to them and who find it unfathomable that another parent could hurt their own children, felt the need to express the horror of such an action and the insult-to-the-injury epilogue which finds the alleged perpetrator walking “free.” Many Christians quickly posted that though she may escape earthly justice, she would one day face God and find ultimate “justice.”

I did not follow every in and out of this trial. I also, like the great majority of people on this entire planet, do not know what really happened to Anthony’s unfortunate child and who is really responsible. I have no idea what role, if any, Anthony played in the tragic death of her child or what physical or mental motivating factors (even if inexcusable) influenced that role. No matter how much Nancy Grace or CNN you watch, I doubt anyone reading this truly does either. I also have no children of my own though there are many children in my life I love dearly and I can only imagine how I would feel were something to happen to them or to a child of my own someday; nor can I foresee any possible situation that would lead me to play any role whatsoever in the harm of a child, so if Anthony is truly guilty I am not empathizing with her or justifying her actions. I am simply saying we do not know what really happened, so it seems moot for any of us to sit in a self-appointed role of judgment proscribing punishment on a person as if we know without doubt they are guilty. The bits and pieces of the trial I did see alluded to a past in which Anthony herself was a victim of abuse; such things do not excuse her actions (if true), but certainly come as further proof that violence of any kind (and especially of this sort) is cyclical and must be addressed fully and rationally to stop its occurrence throughout time. For the “God will judge you” folks, most of whom seem to be (at least nominally) Christian, they need to take that statement to its extent in its implication that we (the people, the individuals, the viewers at home who appoint ourselves judges without training) are not to judge. We do not know her heart, we do not know her situation, and though we love and care for the children in our lives and must protect them and all the other children in our society that have no care from others to the best of our abilities, we can not juxtapose ourselves into her life and judge her as we can and should our own lives and choices. Furthermore, from the Christian viewpoint forgiveness is wide and all-encompassing; forgiveness and the mystery of restoration can heal and cover all, restoring the faults and failings and factors that cause others to do horrible things in their lives. The mystery of forgiveness is that it is in and after this life and it is out of our hands as outsiders to another’s journey—and Anthony is still alive. Forgiveness from a Christian perspective means even those people we as human beings in all of our prejudices, passions, and opinions would rather not forgive, even that we ourselves may never forgive (even if they never did anything to us personally), those people are still under the umbrella of grace and love, mercy and restoration offered by a living and all-encompassing presence that is the one true God.

Selective coverage and celebrity trials bring out selective outrage. Rage can be a gift when it prompts change and works for the protection of others, especially others who cannot care for themselves. During the height of the Casey Anthony coverage a lot of terrible things happened around the world, things that most of us in our comfort did not bat an eye at, that most of us did not even realize had occurred. The proximity of those events has a lot to do with that, as psychological studies have sadly proven; the closer something is to home and the more the victim looks like us, the more we feel angry, emotional, and vengeance-minded. About a month ago the news reported that due to error and miscalculation, bombs dropped by our government resulted in the deaths of dozens of women and children in an Afghan hospital; no combatants or “threats” were harmed. Now, measuring pain and death is impossible—every tragedy is a deep well, every loss of life hits the family and loved ones of that person in its own way. Yet our righteous anger over the death of one American child, terrible as that was, did not come close to the anger most of us felt when those bombs killed dozens of children overseas—and that is just one instance of many similar events. We collectively as a people had nothing to do with the death of Anthony’s child, but a piece of all of us as citizens of our country had a part in the death of the children overseas; it is our taxes, votes, decisions, and pursuits for whatever reason, just or unjust, that influences every bomb our country drops and every troop or civilian death on either side of any war we are involved in. When “accidents” cause the death of innocents, when an action we bear some small role in causes the cycle of violence and war to worsen rather than better, our righteous anger should flare up—it should flare up much stronger than it did even at the Anthony verdict…and we should use that anger to make positive change.

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